Thursday, July 25, 2013

Skewering the Copperhead

Well, it’s a day ending in “y” and that must mean that someone somewhere is lambasting Ron Maxwell’s new film “Copperhead.”

If you’ve been following the reviews at all, you will know that they have been almost universally negative.

Megan Kate Nelson decried the film for not entertaining her. 

Some person named Justin Chang, who apparently suffers from an over fondness for prepositions, called it, “A stodgy, drearily long-winded attempt to to shed light on a little-known chapter of the Civil War.” 

The New York Times said, “Though the tale, based on a novel by Harold Frederic, remains relevant to our time, the film is too self-conscious and tedious for the message it delivers.” 

While the Times lauds the message of "Copperhead",  the last few days have seen an argument over just what that message truly is.

On July 22nd, journalist and Clinton confidante Sidney Blumenthal wrote a piece for The Atlantic called “Romanticizing the Villains of the Civil War.” Blumenthal claims that “The newly released film… is in the same tradition as Gone with the Wind and Gods and Generals. Its history is highly revisionist.” He sees the film as a Neo-Confederate extravaganza, meant to pay homage to the lost cause.

The piece concludes:
In the year of the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, Copperhead presents us with a false depiction of the Copperheads as principled men of peace instead of what they were -- often violent and always racist defenders of slavery, secession, and the Confederacy. Copperhead is propaganda for an old variation of the neo-Confederate Lost Cause myth, that the root of the Civil War was not slavery and the slave power, but an aggressive, power-mad North seeking to tyrannize, by unconstitutional means, a benign and chivalrous South. The Lost Cause myth was at its heart not a matter of a differing interpretation, but of the falsification and suppression of history in order to vindicate the Confederacy and later to justify Jim Crow. Frankly, my dear, we should give a damn.
 Two days later Bill Kauffman, who wrote the screenplay, responded in The American Conservative, claiming “Sidney Blumenthal misunderstands a film about peace, community, and the limits of dissent—not the Union or Confederate causes.”

Far from being a paean to the Southern cause, Kauffman claims “The movie is about the effect of war on a community. It is about the way that wars tear families apart. It is about the challenge of loving one’s neighbor. And it is about dissent, which is never exactly in robust condition in the land of the free.”

Kauffman denies allegiance to the ideology of either the North or the South, asserting that “’Copperhead’ does not end with an affirmation of the Union, as convention would dictate. Nor does it end with an affirmation of disunion, as would a pro-Confederate film.”

While I have not seen the film and therefore cannot comment on the validity of any of the abovementioned viewpoints, I do find it interesting that the latest tussle over the film has a political bent to it. With the recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan still looming over the American psyche, who would have predicted that an “anti-war” film would be criticized on the left and applauded on the right?

For those who have seen the film, feel free to weigh in.

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